OJJ to request more funds for repairs at Bunkie youth detention facility
BUNKIE, La. (KALB) - At the February Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, the Office of Juvenile Justice is expected to request additional funding for repairs at the Acadiana Center for Youth.
Located in Bunkie, the detention center opened in 2019 as one of the state’s six juvenile detention facilities.
“No matter how much we fortify, it was never built to handle the level of criminogenic tendencies and high-risk juveniles that are being housed there,” said District 28 State Sen. Heather Cloud, in whose district the detention center belongs.
For a facility built like a school and intended to house low-level juvenile offenders, it actually houses offenders from all security levels, which has led to increased violence behind its walls and damages OJJ has to pay for.
The repair project was originally estimated to cost $440,217 in May 2021 and is now estimated to cost $771,615. Awarded to Hill Construction, LLC, the project includes the replacement of damaged doors, frames, panic hardware and door locksets, all accrued during breakouts, escapes and riots.
There have been two requested changes to the estimated price since the contract approval in May 2021. In August 2022, JLCB approved $189,349 in additional funding. OJJ’s February request before JLCB will be the second, amounting in $142,049.
“They’re trying to put some dollars in the facility and make sure they don’t have these escapes, make sure we keep the guards safe and other inmates there,” said District 28 State Rep. Daryl Deshotel. “So, it’s imperative these repairs are done.”
“I agree with the funding, the request, and I think that we should approve it,” said Cloud. “But at some point, continuing to throw dollars into the fortification of facilities that were not designed and built to handle the level of juveniles and the risk that they pose, that really needs to be our solution. We have the legislation. It’s been passed. We just need to make sure that it’s not just words on a paper.”
That legislation, ACT 693, orders OJJ to create a tiered system for juvenile facilities in the state, classifying and placing juveniles in low, medium and high risk. It was approved by the state legislature and then signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards following the 2022 Regular Session.
“If that model is not implemented properly, it was all for naught,” said Cloud. “So we need solutions, we need foundational solutions. So this legislature’s going to have to demand results.”
Cloud has requested the OJJ give an update at next month’s JLBC on where the office is with its implementation of the tiered system, that way violent offenses at what are intended to be low-level facilities do not continue to play out.
However, the criticism has continued from those who say youth facilities should be focused on rehabilitation, not enhanced security. Though the tiered system is intended to provide balance, Deshotel, who carried Cloud’s bill in the House, said the fortification of even low-security facilities is still necessary.
“Even with the tiered system, we still have juveniles who act out and do things, and we need to be able to protect the juveniles and protect the guards,” said Deshotel.
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